I Solemnly Swear I Am Not A Ghoul
The holiday season has passed, and now it's time to get back to the nitty gritty bits of life. And when I say gritty, I mean immersing yourself in a true crime story, of course. Right before Thanksgiving I started reading People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo--and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry and I became obsessed with it. If, like me, you aren't into voyuersticly ogling tragedy, but you love a good WTF true story that does involve horrific things (this is a convoluted way of explaining how I occasionally like a good true crime, but I don't want to be categorized as a complete ghoul), then People Who Eat Darkness is a must-read.
The disappearance of Lucie Blackman was headline news in her home country of England and in Japan, where she disappeared and where her murderer was put on trial. In fact, the international edition of the book is much more simply subtitled The Fate of Lucie Blackman. But in America, we didn't get the news of this tragedy, although according to Parry, Lucie's disappearance did get reported on a few times in the States. I think this story was so riveting for me because I went into it having no idea how it played out. I knew that it was going to be a little crazy, and have a few twists and turns, but I only had a vague idea based on the initial recommendation of the book (something I'll get to later).
Here's the basic synopsis of the book: Lucie Blackman moves to Tokyo in the Summer of 2000 with her best friend to work at a hostess club, which is not at all sex work, but it's easy to understand how, to a Western mind, it could seem that way. Before reading this book I had seen a documentary about host clubs (the male alternative to where Lucie worked) called The Great Happiness Space, so I was familiar with the concept. (Sidenote: It's a fascinating documentary and is actually a good secondary resource for information when reading People Who Eat Darkness.) Basically, in a host or hostess club, a patron pays someone to party with them and pretend to be romantically interested in them, but then nothing more happens. Or, sometimes, outside the club, it does, but this is very rare, and not really what the clubs are about.
Lucie was working at a club and actually had a boyfriend, but she had an attentive client who would take her to dinner often, which was part of her job (she would then bring the client to the club for a night of drinking and spending as much money as possible). She told her best friend, who worked at the same club and shared a room with Lucie, that she was going to the coast with this client, but she would be back that evening. She never returned. Then things got stranger and stranger. Lucie's friend called and told that Lucie had joined a religious cult, then she got a letter allegedly from Lucie that was clearly written not only by someone else, but by a non-native English speaker. The Japanese police were of little help, and eventually had to be threatened by not only Lucie's family, not only the British embassy, but by Tony Blair himself. When Lucie's body is found, it's a relief for her family to have that closure, but it's also the very beginning of a long, long story.
The client Lucie went to the coast with is most definitely her killer, but because of his cultural background (Korean raised/living in Japan, a cultural subset that we learn about in the book) and the Japanese police's bungled investigation, a conviction is not easy to come by. Learning about the Japanese justice system is a large part of People Who Eat Darkness, but it's also immensely frustrating. One tiny example? It's a slow process, as cases are only tried once a month. Lucie's murder trial goes on for years and years (and in Tokyo, but her entire family is based in England). Parry reported on the Lucie Blackman case for a decade.
I keep a list of books that I hear about that I'd like to read, and People Who Eat Darkness has been on that list for quite a long time. So long that I didn't even remember adding it. When I finally got around to reading it, I was certain I heard about it on How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner. Anyone who listens to her podcast will know she loves a good true crime book, and will even have the author on after a particularly gripping read for an interview. I was convinced that after I finished People Who Eat Darkness I could re-download Julie's episode with Richard Lloyd Parry and learn even more about his reporting on the case. But then I went through all of the HWYW archives - including premium episodes - and it wasn't there. After some brain racking I remembered that The Serial Spoiler Special hosts would have a segment at the end of each episode where they would recommend things, and I'm fairly certain this is where I heard about People Who Eat Darkness. Of course, there is no How Was Your Wiki for The Serial Spoiler Special, and they don't even write decent episode descriptions, so who the hell knows? Wherever I heard about this book, I'm glad I did.